A key Republican on the House January 6 committee disputed a report which said the panel was split over whether to refer Donald Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal charges regarding his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, leading to the Capitol attack.
“There’s not really a dispute on the committee,” the Wyoming representative Liz Cheney told CNN’s State of the Union.
The New York Times said otherwise on Sunday, in a report headlined: “January 6 Panel Has Evidence for Criminal Referral of Trump, but Splits on Sending.”
“The debate centers on whether making a referral – a largely symbolic act – would backfire by politically tainting the justice department’s expanding investigation into the January 6 assault and what led up to it,” the paper said.
Citing “members and aides”, the Times said such sources were reluctant to support a referral because it would create the impression Democrats had asked the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to investigate Trump.
Cheney said: “We have not made a decision about referrals on the committee … [but] it’s actually clear that what President Trump was dealing with, what a number of people around him were doing, that they knew it was awful. That they did it anyway.”
She was speaking two days after CNN reported that the January 6 committee had obtained text messages in which Donald Trump Jr laid out election subversion tactics to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, just two days after election day.
A leading legal authority, Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, called the text a “smoking rifle” in establishing culpability in Donald Trump’s inner circle.
Cheney cited a decision “issued by [federal] Judge [David] Carter a few weeks ago, where he concluded that it was more likely than not the president United States was engaged in criminal activity.
“I think what we have seen is a massive and well-organized and well-planned effort that used multiple tools to try to overturn an election.”
Cheney pointed to a guilty plea this week by a member of the far-right Proud Boys group, Charles Donohoe, to conspire to attack the Capitol in a bid to stop Congress certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Such planning for events in Washington on 6 January, in part broadcast by Trump, was she said “the definition of an insurrection” and “absolutely chilling”.
But Cheney would not be drawn on whether Trump should be referred for prosecution.
She said: “The committee has … a tremendous amount of testimony and documents that I think very, very clearly demonstrate the extent of the planning and the organization and the objective, and the objective was absolutely to try to … interfere with that official proceeding. And it’s absolutely clear that they knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew that it was unlawful.”
Asked if there was a dispute on the committee, Cheney said there was not.
“The committee is working in a really collaborative way to discuss these issues,” she said, adding: “We’ll continue to work together to do so. So I wouldn’t characterize there as being a dispute on the committee … and I’m confident that we will we will work to come to agreement on on all of the issues that we’re facing.”
Cheney said Ivanka Trump’s testimony this week was “helpful, as has been the testimony of many hundreds of others who have appeared in front of the committee”.
She said Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, referred to the DoJ for criminal contempt charges this week, had been “contemptuous” in refusing to testify.
On Sunday, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader who ejected Cheney from leadership over her involvement in the January 6 committee, issued a statement in support of the fight for democracy in Ukraine, in the face of the Russian invasion.
Asked if she saw irony in such words from a man who sided with Trump over the Capitol attack, Cheney said: “What I would say is that what’s happening today in Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is fragile that democracy must be defended, and that each one of us in a position to do so has an obligation to do so.
“Clearly, I think Leader McCarthy failed to do that, failed to put his oath to the constitution ahead of his own personal political gains.”